GPSTrack Turns My iPhone into a GPS Logger with Map

Here’s what an aerial wildlife survey looks like from the air.

This morning, I finished up an aerial wildlife survey with a client. It was the seventh day of this work I had this month. We only flew for 90 minutes. Our goal was to comb through an area with scattered bunches of ponderosa pines, looking for bald eagle nests.

GPS Track IconLast night, I prepped by downloading an app called GPSTrack for my iPhone. This $1.99 investment “allows you to use the GPS receiver in your iPhone or iPad to show your current location and create a log of your travels.” It can show a map of your track as you travel, updated in real-time. The resulting tracks can be exported via e-mail in GPX and KML formats.

Basically, it turns your iOS device into a moving map geologger.

Eagle Nest HuntI gave it a whirl for the first time this morning. As the helicopter was warming up, I turned it on and enabled tracking. Then I stuck the phone into my shirt pocket and flew. Ever once in a while, I pulled it out to take a peek and, sure enough, it not only laid down my track as I flew, but it had a trip computer that totaled miles and calculated current and average speed.

I flew for about an hour and a half, following the directions of my clients. That consisted of a lot of zig-zagging and looping around. I followed electric lines and flew around lakes. I flew up and down drainages and along cliff faces. My speed varied from about 30 to 80 knots. I flew over 130 miles, all within an area 10 miles wide by ten miles long.

We looked at the tops of a lot of trees. (We saw three bald eagles — one of which had just caught a fish and was eating it on the shore of a lake — but no nests.) When we landed back at the airport, I turned off tracking. Later, I took this screen shot of the completed track.

I also exported the track by tapping a button and sending the two track files (GPX and KML) to myself via e-mail. Opening the KML file on Google Earth resulted in an image like this:

Track in Google Earth

And here’s a closeup of some flying around one of the lakes. (No, I wasn’t drunk; just following instructions.)

Another GPS Track

Overall, I’m extremely impressed with the app. It did a far better job than I expected and was well worth the money I paid for it. In fact, I’m thinking that right about now, companies like Garmin and Magellan should be getting pretty nervous — it wouldn’t take much to add features to this app that match those in something like my Garmin GPSMap 60cx. Add the ability to tap and add waypoints and anyone with an iPhone (or iPad, for that matter) that includes a GPS wouldn’t need a standalone GPS unit anymore.

The only thing I’d like to see with this software is a different map — topo or terrain. I have very little use for road maps and don’t like the level of detail in satellite images when shown at the magnification for speeds I fly at (usually around 100 knots). I put in a request to the app’s author and he responded that it was on his list of things to do. I bet that if he sold a lot more copies of this app, he’d be motivated to keep improving it. (Hint, hint.)

If you give it a try — or have tried other similar software you like — take a moment to use the comments form or link to share your opinions. I’m always interested in GPS-related software.

5 thoughts on “GPSTrack Turns My iPhone into a GPS Logger with Map

  1. Nice pics. :) I have several criteria for a GPS device:

    * Easy to use, turn on/off. Set it and forget it.
    * Reliable. No worries about battery life, overheating (it’s happened), accidental bumping.
    * Good GPS signal reception and accuracy.
    * Portable and stowable. Space is limited in a helicopter cockpit.
    * Extensible. Easy to export, email, share tracks and images.
    * Valuable/worth the money. Trial versions of software (try before you buy) are a bonus.
    * Not vaporware. How long will the author support the software? Will it be obsolete when the next OS version is released? How soon before my hardware is a paperweight?

    I’ve used MotionX GPS (both free and fee versions) on my iPad (1st generation) and Google My Tracks on my HTC Evo 4G Android 2.2 smartphone. I prefer My Tracks for several reasons.

    * It takes fewer steps to turn on and off.
    * I haven’t had my Evo overheat or the battery die, both of which have happened with the iPad. The iPad overheated on a sunny day when I placed it behind the instrument console on an R-22.
    * The GPS signal is stronger and more accurate. On my iPad, I’ve had dead spots where the signal was lost and the track shows a dashed vs. solid line.
    * My smartphone fits in my pocket; the iPad does not. Mind you, I LOVE my iPad. I sleep with it, brush my teeth as I watch videos on it, eat with it, carry it with me like a blankey. I bought it vs. an iPhone, because it had the bigger screen. I much prefer using weather, sectional chart, navigation, and logbook apps on the iPad, but for GPS, Android all the way.
    * Exporting tracks is far easier. I don’t have to email them to myself, save the attachments, and then open them in Google Earth. Since My Tracks is Google and integrates with the Google metaverse, it just saves tracks to My Maps on Google Maps and it’s simple to open them in Google Earth from there. I also use Screenshot It to take screenshots, which I can then email, MMS, or post to Flickr, Facebook, etc.
    * Although my smartphone wasn’t free, the My Tracks GPS app was.
    * Mr Tracks is made by Google, so I’m not worried about them going out of business or not supporting their products. (Oh wait, Google Wave…) ;-)

    I posted some screenshots from My Tracks on Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/sylvhania/5530750450/in/set-72157626275656492/

  2. Maria, I use MotionX GPS. $0.99 to do the same. Do you know that the XML data contains altitude info as well? I think It’s pretty cool to also see the track in 3D by importing into the google earth application.

  3. Hanna & Jake/JB: Thanks for sharing this info. I’ll definitely check out MotionX.

    I should also mention here that I’m not using this app as a serious GPS device — at least not now. I have a good GPS. But when I don’t feel like carrying that around and just want to create a quick track on the go, GPSTrack sure seems like a good solution.

  4. Hello there! I thought that it might be useful to suggest a free software program: http://gpx2kml.com/ to convert gpx file to kml formats and vice versa, when needed. You can upload your files and see the conversions. Thanks and good luck!

What do you think?